Memory Lane for Suicide Prevention will host a special program Thursday evening at State Fair Community College that will feature Pettis County Sheriff Kevin Bond, a Missouri suicide hotline representative and a suicide survivor.
Memory Lane aims to help prevent suicide’s “silent suffering” by providing resources. The program will coincide with May’s National Mental Health Awareness month.
Amanda Eisenbarth, director of Memory Lane, said Bond will speak on the Stepping Up Initiative that addresses the mental health issue in the county.
“The reason I asked him was to make the people who come aware that Pettis County is working on a program and improving the community,” she added.
“You know the jail or the emergency room is usually the first stop for a mentally ill person,” said Kate Koenig, a Memory Lane member. “Stepping Up is supposed to be the middle person … a mental crisis is not necessarily a crime that needs police. It needs mental health professionals. That’s why that’s so important to helping this community.”
A representative from Provident Inc., the Missouri National Suicide Hotline Service, will speak about the training they receive and what happens when a citizen calls the hotline.
“I think that’s important,” Eisenbarth said. “When someone calls an 800 number, they want to know what kind of people am I talking to (and) have they been trained. What are they going to do for me when I call in?”
“I think it’s important for someone like a parent calling in on behalf of a child,” Koenig noted. “We have to make it so familiar to people, like a 911, that they’re not afraid to use it …”
The speakers will be Provident Community Education Coordinator Adrianne Martin and Crisis Intervention Specialist Sylvia Ogilvie. Eisenbarth said they already have 20 RSVPs for the event, but have room for more people.
“The people who are coming to this we have found all have some vested interest, for some reason or another,” Koenig said.
She added that many are planning to attend because they are curious, they have been in the position of considering suicide themselves or they have had a family member who is or was suicidal.
“Or they may be afraid to come out and ask out loud,” Koenig said. “So, they show up to get some info. “
The women said they welcome anyone “who has been affected” by suicide to attend the event.
“One of the people (from Provident) coming to talk is actually a survivor,” Eisenbarth said.
Eisenbarth added that she decided to host the program because she thought it was important for people to know there are resources available.
Both women said they believe the suicide rate in the local area has increased over the last year.
“We’re just here to get the resources out there,” Eisenbarth noted. “With our weekly group meetings, it’s taken people a while to to feel brave enough to come.”
“There’s such a stigma around suicide, ” Koenig added. “We just get out there in the public and show our face, and show our information, and it takes courage. We’re trying to end that stigma.”
Koenig added that she knows firsthand about dealing with mental illness — she was diagnosed with a severe anxiety disorder something she’s dealt with all her life.
“We are trying to say ‘if you had epilepsy or diabetes you would go to the doctor and be treated,’” she noted. “All mental illnesses can be treated. Suicide is the final decision for treatment, which isn’t isn’t a healthy decision.
“Beneath every suicide is a mental illness,” she added. “This is Mental Illness Awareness Month. I myself have a mental illness. It runs in my family. I see a psychiatrist. About eight years ago I decided I was tired of it being this secret.”
Koenig now helps others by talking with them and bringing them books about mental illness. She also listens. Often listening is all someone needs.
“Remember when they thought epilepsy was thought to be the Devil … suicide is the worst possible choice, but to some people because of the stigma surrounding mental illness …,” Koenig said.
“It’s the only choice,” Eisenbarth interjected.
Keonig said the highest rate for suicide is for men ages 20 to 40.
“That’s like college boys, young military men, dads, stressed out executives,” she added. “Men aren’t supposed to show their feelings. They are not supposed to look weak … we really have to just break that stigma.”
“We’re trying to break the stigma and let people know there’s hope out here,” Eisenbarth noted.
Koenig said what has been the most “eye-opening” for her is the stories she hears from people in the community.
“… From complete strangers about their experience with suicide and mental illness,” she added. “It is a huge eye-opener and I feel so grateful that I’m being part of their recovery. A lot of times this is the first time they have told anyone their secret.
“The suffering is so high and it’s so silent,” she noted. “I want to end that silence.”
Memory Lane Foundation for Suicide Prevention provides support group meetings at 6:15 p.m. Mondays and at 9 a.m. the first and third Saturday of the month at 420 W. 16th St. They also welcome volunteers. Those interested may contact Eisenbarth at 596-5173 or [email protected]
“Your story isn’t over yet!” will be presented at 6:30 p.m. Thursday in classroom 148 of the Yeater Building at State Fair Community College. Those interested may contact Eisenbarth. For more information, visit Memory Lane — It’s Not Always Easy Street on Facebook.
Faith Bemiss can be reached at 530-0289 or @flbemiss.